Imagine if you could capture large amounts of carbon dioxide before it left the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, cement plants, steel plants and other industrial facilities.
Such an advance could reduce carbon emissions worldwide, helping to slow the pace of global warming.
With these goals in mind, Haiqing Lin, an associate professor in UB’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is leading a multi-institution $3.8 million project to develop materials called membranes that can separate carbon dioxide (CO2) from other gases — a technology that factories and power plants could easily install to cut down the amount of carbon they release.
Eventually, the team’s products will be tested at the National Carbon Capture Center, a DOE-sponsored research facility in Alabama.
“Carbon capture technology has the potential to make a huge impact right away when it comes to carbon emissions,” said Lin. “Solar and wind are great, but it will take time for the world to increase capacity in these areas, and in the meantime, we are still burning fossil fuels. Cement plants and steel furnaces also produce a lot of CO2, and carbon capture technologies can help reduce these emissions as well.”
Gengyi Zhang, a master’s student in the UB Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, measures how well carbon dioxide permeates through a polymer-based membrane. The new carbon capture membranes will be tested in the same way once they have been developed. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo
This device, part of a microbalance, is used to measure how well materials can adsorb carbon dioxide. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo
Cressa Fulong, UB chemistry PhD candidate, holds a polymer solution. As part of the effort to create the new carbon capture membrane, Fulong is developing carbon-friendly compounds that will be incorporated into such solutions, which are then transformed into thin films through a process called casting. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo
Cressa Fulong, UB chemistry PhD candidate, prepares a membrane for testing. The new carbon capture membranes are expected to be blue in hue, similar to this membrane, previously created in the lab of Haiqing Lin, UB associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo
A stack of membranes, each housed at the center of a copper and aluminum disc that helps to protect the material during experiments. The new carbon capture membranes will undergo the same preparation prior to testing once they have been developed. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo
UB chemical and biological engineering researcher Liang Huang, PhD, prepares membranes for testing, placing each one at the center of a copper and aluminum disc that helps to protect the membrane during experiments. The new carbon capture membranes will undergo the same preparation prior to testing once they have been developed. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo
The goal of this project is to develop transformative solubility-selective mixed matrix membranes (MMMs) containing metal organic polyhedras (MOPs) and rubbery polar polymers, achieving high CO2 permeance, high CO2/N2 selectivity and high CO2/O2 selectivity at temperatures up to 60°C. These membranes will be fabricated into industrial modules, which will be tested using real flue gas at the National Carbon Capture Center. If successfully developed, such membranes would outperform current leading membranes by 50 – 100%, which may enable membrane processes to meet the DOE target of < $30/ton CO2 captured from coal-derived flue gas.
Timothy Cook, assistant professor of chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, is serving as the project’s co-principal investigator. Lin and Cook have worked on a number of interdisciplinary projects together, beginning with a study funded by a UB Innovative Micro-Programs Accelerating Collaboration in Themes (IMPACT) award.
Collaborators include scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Membrane Technology and Research Inc., Trimeric Corporation and the National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC).
Student contributors include UB chemical and biological engineering students Leiqing Hu, Gengyi Zhang, Liang Huang and Hien Nguyen, as well as chemistry student, Cressa Fulong.